Historians debate the origins of paper airplanes. The ancient Chinese used papyrus paper to invent the kite, but their primitive designs likely did not resemble modern flight. Leonardo DaVinci wrote about constructing a flying machine out of parchment. In the early 19th century, Sir George Cayley identified the four primary aerodynamic forces of flight and built kite-like gliders out of linen. Early attempts at constructing flying machines fascinated children and adults alike. The success of the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk in 1903 fostered renewed hope of powered flight and no doubt contributed to the purported invention, in 1909, of the paper airplane. The principles that make an airplane fly are the same that govern paper versions. Paper’s high strength and density make it similar, scale-wise, to the materials used to construct airplanes.
Though the aerodynamics of paper airplanes remain the same, people play with the possibilities of shape, color, weight, and technology. Modern CAD design systems allow for exact measurements, contemporary printers enable easy duplication of popular designs, and engineers with inclinations to a paper folding hobby demonstrate varied folds such as the bull dart, the hammer, the sky king, the dragonfly, and the record-breaking, Suzanne. Pop artist Peter Max created an entire book of psychedelic paper airplane templates in the 1970s. Contemporary artists Gemma Correll and Lisa Congdon created templates for pet paper airplanes and mix and match glider paper airplanes. Play with paper airplanes is far from formulaic and constrained. Where some toys require financial investment, paper airplanes start with a simple sheet of paper, coupled with dexterity, to produce a toy with infinite aeronautical possibilities.